Score! Your company is in the news – again! You have been “volunteered” to design and develop an ethics workshop within two weeks. Lucky for you, the vice president of compliance has assigned two SMEs to your project, both of whom have over 20 years’ experience in their given fields.

“What a relief,” you say to yourself. You do the analysis and make your pitch to the SMES on what should be covered in the workshop. They say, “Great.” You explain that they need to write the terminal learning objectives (TLOs). They say, “Great.”

“They must be seasoned players,” you think to yourself, so you ask them to send no more than three to five TLOs your way. They send these:

  1. “Understand the lesson.”
  2. “Be able to make ethical decisions.”
  3. “Know which rules apply and when.”

Now would be a good time to request a little more time to complete your project.

SMEs are, of course, crucial to the success of most training plans. But, as instructional designers, training managers and L&D leaders, our role may also be to help SMEs articulate what a given task entails, especially if the training content deals in crucial compliance- or safety-related fields.

Writing TLOs requires effective collaboration with SMEs so that the training helps learners achieve the transferable, applicable skills required to remain compliant and safe. Therefore, it is imperative to ensure that the SMEs are able to assist instructional designers in writing TLOs that are not left up to interpretation, subjectivity or ambiguity.

One approach to start getting your SMEs on base with TLOs is to ask the SMEs, “How will we measure if the learner can apply the knowledge or skill?” or, “What will we give the employees to help them complete the task we are asking them to perform?” In other words, help the SMEs see the benefits of being specific on the desired outcomes by illustrating that the TLOs are accurate, measurable and objective.

I often phrase my questions using the appropriate Bloom’s taxonomy-level verbs; the SMEs then, usually, begin using these more accurate performance verbs in our TLOs. I also find these practices helpful when working with SMEs:

  • Tap into an SME’s existing knowledge of learning objectives.
  • Use plain language.
  • Use their industry-related nomenclature and terminology.
  • Help them practice create TLOs that are not related to the project but instead related to their hobbies, like games, cooking and even wine tasting.

Once SMEs see TLOs in a personal or everyday context, they can look at their own field of expertise with greater insight. They should then be able to explain what needs to be in a TLO in order to demonstrate proficiency in a given task.

Whenever we are asked to design compliance training programs, it’s imperative that the TLOs the SMEs have identified are accurate, because the safety of learners or the compliance mandates of the company and its stakeholders may be at risk. The approach I’ve outlined helps clarify performance objectives so that SMEs can see how a TLO captures the task, condition and standard more accurately than using only learning objectives. Trying this approach should help your SMEs get on board with the concept and then be better able to assist you in creating accurate TLOs.

Helping SMEs feel comfortable with TLOs should be an engaging and fun experience for you and them; putting them at ease in the design process will pay great dividends, including establishing your reputation as someone who respects SMEs and values and captures their input and expertise.

Participants will have an opportunity to collaborate with their peers in my TICE 2018 workshop, which will ask participants to assemble TLOs as a team.